How long is your to-do list?
Five? Ten? Fifteen items?
Do you ever feel a sense of dread looking down the list, and then, (to numb the pain), rather than getting started, do you ever find yourself scrolling through your email, slack, or social media channels?
And by the end of the day, how many things on that massive list have you actually achieved?
Think back over the last week – can you make a list of the important things you did?
How many items from your list did you actually achieve? How many remain?
How many items on it have been there for more than a week? Are there any which have languished for more than a month?
Dare I ask if there have been some on your list for a year?
Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m a huge fan of to-do lists, but I have come to believe that the way that many of us are using them is wrong.
To-do lists should not be weapons with which we daily punish ourselves.
To achieve more, first acknowledge that you are human.
I believe many of us, (particularly high-achievers) have deluded ourselves into thinking we should be able to do everything on our obscenely long lists. I’m not sure where we get these beliefs from, but they don’t stack up well with reality!
Here’s my view:
We set ourselves an unachievable number of tasks to complete each day, and this number is based in fantasy. Particularly for those people working in knowledge / data / creative roles – we don’t factor in our very human tendency to get tired.
We think that if we sit (or even stand) at a desk all day, this is not as tiring as manual labour. In fact, the brain is the most energy-gobbling organ in our body, using over 20% of our energy! Think on this: the average human normally consumes 2000-2500 calories a day. Elite chess players can burn 6000 calories a day just playing chess. Deep thinking requires a lot of power!
As well as fatigue, too many things on our to-do lists can lead to a feeling of overwhelm. This can lead to disengagement, which in turn lowers productivity.
After acknowledging your humanity, try this:
Once more, let’s focus on doing fewer things, but doing those few things better.
So, this coming week, I challenge you to:
2) Each morning, look through your list and choose just 3 important tasks for that day. Only 3.
I would suggest they link to at least one of your Weekly Objectives, but they don’t have to.
But, grab a post it note, and write those three tasks.
Then hide your LONG list in a drawer, (or close down your list app) and don’t look at it again today.
3) Now, take your post-it note, and circle the most important thing on your list.
4) Focus and finish that ONE task.
Once you finish that task… stop.
Give yourself a smile, a stretch, and a pat on the back. Then after a quick break, you can move on to one of your other two tasks.
By the end of the day you will hopefully have finished at least two, perhaps three important tasks.
And you will actually have FINISHED them. Finishing something gives you a wonderful sense of achievement (your brain gets a dopamine hit!), which reduces dread and overwhelm, and increases productivity.
And by the end of the week, you will have achieved 10 or 15 highly important tasks. That’s a good week!
Of course, there will be interruptions, and minor things that need to be done. But as far as possible, delay these until after you have completed at least your first important task. You will feel so much better for it.
Give it a try and let me know how you get on!